This paper emerged in response to the author’s frequent teaching encounters with students across subject disciplines, who expressed confusion when confronted with the request to be ‘reflective’ in their written assignments. Amongst the confusions voiced by them, was how far ‘reflective writing’ gave them permission to make themselves visible personally in their writing. Yet content and linguistic choices are less significant than the learning which underlies them. The study described here asks: how did students respond to the invitation to be ‘reflective’ and what did this reveal about their understandings of the term? Does the systematic development of reflective writing actually develop the capacity to reflect? It will attempt to answer these questions by considering how one cohort of student teachers, engaged in a teacher development programme, responded to a reflective task at the start of a period of study, and at the end. The cohort included both domestic and international students, so it is also possible tentatively to suggest patterns of response that might differentiate between these two groups. Whilst this study is specific to a particular student group, the research questions invite us to consider how far perceptions change as an outcome of higher education study. The study also causes us to review our assumptions about students from domestic and international backgrounds, and to consider what is, or is not, valued in their experience of higher education.